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Why did Ted Happold’s combined course in architecture and engineering fail?


I speak as a recent graduate of an undergraduate degree in architecture. I think Paul presents one of those situations where it seems so obvious that such a set up must exist in some form that it goes without saying. It isn't until someone actually mentions its non-existence that it seems a given such a thing should indeed be taught somewhere, given the inherent integration of both disciplines. The reason Paul gives for the first attempts failure jumps out to me as most likely true. From my knowledge, the people who enter straight engineering are, I think, differently minded to those entering straight architecture; and it is much easier to push an architect to think in engineering terms than to push an engineer to think in architecture's terms. Dressing these things up any other way would not, I think, strip the two areas of their current connotations so the professions could dress them up differently. People will always choose engineering because they know what it involves, and likewise architecture. I think it would require significant effort to combine the two. Architecture is inherently a very broad subject encompassing art and design, law and management, history, as well as the structural and engineering elements. What do engineers currently do in comparison? Well, in short, they have to work with numbers, it's really as simple as that. I can not comment specifically because I didn't do an engineering degree, but I'd like to bet that they most certainly do not sit through world architectural and art history lectures, or landscaping lectures, nor would they be required to learn of the theoretical and psychological significance of a column's position within open space, or what turning a corner means, for instance. And likewise, there are strong elements of graphic presentation within architectural training that I'd doubt would arise in engineering training. In short, the two disciplines attract very differently-minded individuals. That said, I still think there is a massive gap here. I know, for instance, that on my architecture course and I'm sure many others, there were of course those who were very arty-minded, those who threw themselves into the theories and principles, those who were good with graphics, those who were good with computer or physical models, and so on. Those things classically associated with architectural training. But among them, were people who shone at an opportunity to display their maths skills, those who just got engineering principles better than others. And there was always this separation; there were very few who could be incredibly arty but also so grounded and well reasoned as is required to make the designs stand up and work. Of course, we all got there in the end whatever our skill sets, and it was a credit to the mix of modules we undertook. We did a module in second year specifically aimed at basic engineering and structural principles; we did separate history and theory modules; the marking of design projects was in two weighted parts, one design and one environmental and technical - both needing to be passed to pass the module - so we were forced to think of basic structural and engineering principles, materials, construction details, and various calculations; a technical report was required in the final project to demonstrate an understanding of such things also. But basic I think is the key word here. Can we really merge the two subjects? Well, in principle, yes. An idea is simple; it's people who complicate it. But something will have to give; a basic understanding only is what I think any such course could offer. This could be done by stratifying each of the three years of an undergraduate degree into a specific and focused topic; through a whole mix of modules throughout the degree without any year having any particular weighting; through the marking of such modules - ie, requiring specific architectural and engineering thinking; or though an options system whereby certain modules dealing with the basics of both worlds are offered as standard, but options must be selected to top this up - this route may well cater for those, like on my course and within the two separate fields as a whole, allowing for the differently minded to still be challenged to think about both subjects but not holding them back altogether but allowing them to flourish in whatever they are most naturally good at. The simple fact is people on the courses are differently minded, and I will repeat that it is easier to push an architect to think in engineering terms than for the opposite to happen. This is seriously a very worthwhile idea, and if I was experienced enough I'd probably try and create this movement myself! A very good article dealing with a very good idea. Shane Young

Posted date

29 October, 2012

Posted time

5:44 pm